21 June 2007

(S3O-322) Transport (Ayrshire)

21st June 2007

Transport (Ayrshire)

3. Cathy Jamieson (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what its transport priorities are for Ayrshire. (S3O-322)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Transport priorities for Ayrshire are the responsibility of the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and the relevant local authorities. The Scottish Executive will continue to work closely with those bodies, in line with the national transport strategy, to meet the transport needs of Ayrshire.

Cathy Jamieson: The Scottish Executive has responsibility for trunk roads. Does the minister agree that road safety for vehicle passengers and pedestrians is a key element of any transport strategy? Does he consider further improvements to the A77 in my constituency, including a bypass for Maybole, to be a priority? Will he examine the accident statistics for the A70 and consider making it a trunk road in light of its strategic importance in connecting south and east Ayrshire with the M74? Finally, will he consider what improvements can be made to the A76, including bypassing the villages that suffer from heavy traffic, such as Mauchline and New Cumnock, and take early action to ensure that the footpath that runs part of the way between Cumnock and New Cumnock is completed so that those who walk the route regularly can do so in safety?

Stewart Stevenson: It may interest the member to know that I will shortly consider the regional transport strategies. I expect to see reflected in those that affect Ayrshire the matters that she raised. On a date yet to be agreed, I will visit Ayrshire to see some of the roads in question. I will do so at the invitation of John Scott, the Conservative MSP, but I will be happy to meet other people during that visit if it assists in ensuring that I understand the issues in sufficient detail to respond appropriately.

Alex Neil (Central Scotland) (SNP): I draw the minister's attention to the fact that the lack of sufficient public transport connections between different points is a barrier to economic expansion in Ayrshire. Will he consider the possibility of setting up, on a pilot basis, a bus route development fund similar to the successful air route development fund, to try to remove those barriers to economic development in Ayrshire?

Stewart Stevenson: A bus route development grant is already in existence: it provides £22.5 million over three years to support 50 new and enhanced bus services across Scotland. I note what the member says about public transport in Ayr. When I read the regional transport strategy later this month, I will certainly respond to the issue he has raised.

(S3O-305) Firth of Forth (Road Crossing)

21st June 2007

Firth of Forth (Road Crossing)

2. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what progress isbeing made in planning for a replacement road crossing for the Forth. (S3O-305)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Forth replacement crossing study has now concluded and Transport Scotland is considering the study findings. A paper is being prepared for the Cabinet to consider options and the associated costs, to allow an early decision on this important project.

Claire Baker: I am pleased that the minister recognises that it is vital for the economic and social future of Fife and the east of Scotland that planning for a replacement road crossing begins now, and that a situation in which travel to and from Fife is unreasonably restricted is not allowed to develop.

I would like to impress on the minister the importance of consultation with the current bridge workforce on changes and new proposals. Can the minister give me a guarantee that there will be full consultation with the people of Fife on the options for a replacement road crossing?

Stewart Stevenson: In relation to the changes that have been announced to the tolling regime on the existing bridge, the workforce is at the front of our minds and the Forth Estuary Transport Authority has taken appropriate steps with regard to consultation.

On the new crossing, whatever its nature might be, we have to take the people of Fife and the people on this side of the estuary along with us. The project is a strategic one that we have to get right and for which we have a tightly constrained timetable. Consultation will be an important part of taking the project forward.

Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): I congratulate the cabinet minister for moving this issue forward quickly. I look forward to an announcement about the conclusions of the study being made in the near future.

Does the minister agree that we are so late coming to conclusions because, in November 2005, the former First Minister said that it was a particularly stupid idea to start making plans? If that had not been his position, we could have been a lot further forward than we are at the moment.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the member for her promotion of me to the Cabinet. One never knows—some day.

At this stage, it is important to examine some of the timetable constraints that we are faced with. It is possible—although this is the earliest date—that the bridge will have to close to heavy goods vehicles in 2013. Work continues, and we hope that that will not be the case. If we can proceed at the pace that we seek, it may be possible to start construction in 2016. I am determined that we will have no further delays in addressing an issue that is important for Fife and the Lothians.

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): Will the minister give a commitment to ensure that the proposals for the new Forth crossing include options for public transport? Does he accept that the new crossing gives us the chance not just to maintain vital road access across the Forth but to increase capacity for public transport, particularly given the pressure on the Forth rail bridge and the need to reduce congestion and carbon emissions?

Stewart Stevenson: The importance of public transport is very much part of our consideration of the replacement crossing. The member is likely to know that there are issues with signalling on the existing railway bridge; we are addressing them, following up on the work of the previous Administration. She may be assured that, as well as provide a new road crossing, we want public transport to be improved between Fife and the Lothians.

14 June 2007

(S3O-205) Transport Projects Review (Audit Scotland)

2. Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what terms of reference, timescale and resources will be required for Audit Scotland to carry out a full review of the procedures used to forecast the costs of the Edinburgh tram and Edinburgh airport rail link projects; how the reporting date of 20 June 2007 was agreed; to whom Audit Scotland will report at the end of the review; and what the implications of the review are for the independence of Audit Scotland. (S3O-205) The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Auditor General for Scotland has determined the terms of reference, resources and timescale for Audit Scotland's review, in accordance with his statutory powers. Audit Scotland has published the terms of reference on its website at www.audit-scotland.gov.uk. The Auditor General agreed the reporting date of 20 June in discussion with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth on 4 June. The Auditor General will report by presenting the findings of the review to Parliament on 20 June. There are no implications for the independence of Audit Scotland. Margaret Smith: Given that the minister has used overruns on other projects to justify reviewing the trams project and EARL, will he explain how the review can look at the process for estimating project costs and management arrangements, but cannot, in the words of Audit Scotland, "provide assurance on the accuracy of the cost estimates"? Is that because to do so would compromise the independence of Audit Scotland in the on-going review of major projects? Will the minister also inform us whether the review's findings will be made public through the whole Parliament or through the Audit Committee, which asked the Auditor General and Audit Scotland to undertake the only review of this kind when the committee was considering the Holyrood building project? Stewart Stevenson: It will be for the Auditor General to publish the results and present them to Parliament. I expect that the results will also be available on the Audit Scotland website. The member asked how we can address the accuracy of estimates and pointed to overruns on other projects. She is right that we have serious concerns about such overruns and that that gave us the impetus to look at the largest projects in our portfolio. However, the Auditor General brought forward in the schedule work that he had planned to do—it is not in itself new work. We expect that that work will inform decision making on key projects and that it will give us a solid foundation for accepting that good processes and management practices are in place in key projects. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab): When the review is completed and, as was agreed last week, a motion is put to the Parliament, will the Scottish Government accept the Parliament's decision? Stewart Stevenson: Well, let us not run ahead of ourselves in relation to what the report will say. We are committed to having a debate and to bringing to Parliament before the summer recess our views on the major projects that we are considering. Rather than expect difficulties, the member should wait for the appropriate steps to be taken and see what outcome we reach. Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): The minister said "overruns on other projects"—I wrote that down carefully. Will he tell members what those other projects are? Stewart Stevenson: Mr Scott will be aware that the figures that were brought to Parliament for the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine project were in the range of £65 million to £70 million. We are advised that the expected completion price will be in the order of £83 million. That is a substantial overrun, which causes us to seek assurances that we have adequate management control over even larger projects and that estimates have been derived professionally. It is perfectly natural for us to do that; if we did not, I am sure that we would attract considerable criticism. Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): I am still not clear about how value for money can be addressed by an Audit Scotland inquiry that does not look at the accuracy and reliability of cost estimates. Mr Swinney said in the debate on the matter that he would address value for money. Will the minister tell us how Mr Swinney will address value for money as a separate exercise from the one that Audit Scotland is undertaking? Will the minister confirm that before the recess there will be a debate on the issue, following which members will have the opportunity to vote on whether the trams and EARL projects go ahead? Stewart Stevenson: I am surprised that the member has not twigged that there will be a debate—it has been a theme—before the recess. I return to the subject of the Auditor General's independence. He has brought forward work so that we as ministers can make our determinations about value for money. He will inform us whether there is a robust process that has been gone through effectively in the calculation of estimates and whether there are management processes to carry the projects forward. That is his role, and he will report to Parliament on those matters. Based on that work and on other considerations, as ministers, we must assess whether certain projects deliver value for money. We will report to Parliament as we have promised.

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